There is no denying the Southwest is experiencing one of its most extreme droughts in recorded history. National Geographic predicted it to be, “the worst drought in 1,000 years.” Lake Mead’s water levels have dropped to a record low this year. This has raised the eyebrows of water conservationists, who have been in a three-year effort to prevent such an occurrence. Lake Mead is a major source of water for Nevada, Arizona and California. Los Angeles, the second most populated region in the United States, also gets most of their water from Lake Mead. What used to be America’s largest water resource is now at an all-time low, which leads conservationists to wonder if we will ever replenish the lake’s original bounty. It is imperative we find a way to make up for this dramatic shortfall.
The water crisis in the Southwest is one of America’s biggest examples of the impact climate change has on the world today. The water crisis in the Southwest may be the largest example of its dramatic affects. The challenge we face today is how to create sustainable water systems and figuring out what is the easiest way for our nation to complete this task. So far there are four known ways to improve the divide between supply and demand.
Ground Water Extraction
Many desert systems rely on aquifers and the extraction of groundwater. This method is mainly used for irrigation systems and drinking water. The pros of this process are that ground water can be extracted year round and it is not affected by evaporation. The cost of extracting groundwater is relatively less expensive than other methods of supply. The problem we see with extraction is land leveling. If water levels in aquifers fall, the clay and silt layers in the land slowly drain and become compact causing the land surface to lower. This process gives way for the land to crack or tilt creating a serious risk for buildings, roads and bridges among other civil subsidies.
Desalination and Imports
Desalination is the process of removing salts and other minerals from a liquid substance. Many homeowners know this process as reverse osmosis. The method is completely backed with scientific data and seems to be a perfect solution to preserve our fresh water supply. The downside is that desalination is that it is an extremely costly process and requires a tremendous amount of energy. Currently it is the only solution we have that does not rely heavily on uncontrollable factors.
Importing water from neighboring states is more cost efficient, but there is currently no excess water to import in the southwest, making the length of transportation substantial and much more expensive.
Planned Water Reduction
There are three main types of water usage; industrial, agricultural and urban. When it comes to industrial use, it’s important to note the expansion of the southwest economy. Over the next century, there will be an increased need for water due to growth. Environments such as nuclear power plants need an abundance of water to keep systems from overheating. Energy adaptation will have to be observed and new technologies will have to be implemented to reduce the usage of water for industrial uses. When it comes to agriculture, the cost of water has exceeded the cost of crops. This basically means farmers can make more selling water than they can their own crops. The government has already made deals with farm owners to reduce their demand. In Arizona, the water conservation effort has paid farmers eight million dollars in the last three years to cut back on their water usage. The reduction of water use on farm land will cause the price of fruits, veggies and animal products to jump. Planned water reduction ultimately relies on community awareness.
Unplanned restrictions are the least desirable solution. These restrictions limit the amount of water homes and businesses are allotted at any given time. This is an extremely drastic measure, but it’s one that has been the subject of discussion in recent years.
So where do we go from here? All these solutions have their share of issues making the future unclear. It is imperative we take action as individuals to reduce our water usage. In this case, every bit of reduction in your personal use will help to make a long-term difference. Awareness is everything and there are small steps you can take to make a tremendous difference.
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